After adding 21 commits, can Ohio State challenge Alabama for recruiting crown?
When Ryan Day succeeded Urban Meyer as Ohio State football coach, one of the worries among a segment of OSU’s rabid fan base was that a recruiting dip loomed on the horizon.
For all his acclaim as an offensive mind, Day lacked the name recognition of Meyer, who had used his three national championships over two decades to build a national recruiting base for the Buckeyes.
Two recruiting cycles later, no one should be fretting. On Wednesday, the opening day of the early signing period, the Buckeyes signed all 21 of their commitments, including five five-star prospects, to cement a top-five recruiting class for 2021.
By midday, the group was ranked second nationally in 247Sports’ composite of the major recruiting rankings, keeping Ohio State within reach of Alabama for the top spot.
Even for Meyer, it would have been a rare feat to be so close on the heels of the Crimson Tide, which was set to sign 23 players on Wednesday. Not once during his seven seasons at the helm did the Buckeyes take the recruiting crown, though a collection of talent in 2017 that included future top NFL draft picks Chase Young and Jeff Okudah came close.
The neck-and-neck race for the No. 1 class this winter, though, is unlikely to be settled in the coming days. In fact, the battle could continue into February's second signing period.
That was largely because no decision is imminent from J.T. Tuimoloau, a pass-rushing defensive end from suburban Seattle who is the No. 3 overall prospect in the class and is considering both schools. They are in his top-five, along with Oregon, Southern California and Washington.
If Tuimoloau picks Ohio State, that could provide enough star power to push the Buckeyes over the top. But a commitment to Alabama likely would give Nick Saban’s program the top class for the ninth time in 11 cycles.
The gap between the schools in the 247Sports composite on Wednesday was only five points.
In Day’s view, the significance of a recruiting crown is minimal in comparison to how the top talent blends in with the rest of the roster.
“It's just someone's opinion,” Day said on a conference call. “I get it. I respect it all. But in the end, you got to find the right guys for Ohio State and the right fit. It's not 100%, but the guys that we bring in, they're the right fit for us. This is the No. 1 recruiting class for us. I’m sure some people look at that a little bit more.”
The bigger goal, Day added, is that the recruits he brings in today win when it's their time to play.
“To me, the true test of a recruiting class is where it's at in four years or three years from when they sign,” he said. “I know it's fun, it's great to talk about and all that stuff. But what matters is what they do when they get here. That's what we stay focused on.”
Nonetheless, the showing is a sign of Ohio State’s recruiting success in its transition to Day that the predominant storyline on Wednesday involved the ranking of its class.
There was little other drama on early signing day. All 21 of the previously committed high school seniors, which included 12 who were among the top 100 prospects in the country, sent in their signed letters of intent by lunchtime.
It helped that pieces for the class were put together more than a year ago and months before the coronavirus pandemic brought a ban on in-person recruiting. Ten recruits had announced their commitments before the shutdown in March.
Their presence helped expand the group, particularly defensive end Jack Sawyer and wide receiver Jayden Ballard, two of the first three commits who are from Ohio and persuaded others to join the fold.
There were no late recruits to flip or signing day ceremonies to watch. The only addition since October came Friday when Emeka Egbuka, the nation's top receiver, announced his commitment to the Buckeyes.
If more are to follow in the class of 2021, Mark Pantoni, the director of player personnel who oversees recruiting, said it will likely depend on the roster attrition that will come in January following this season.
It could allow them to bring in more freshmen or wait on others in the NCAA transfer portal. Pantoni said their options remained open.
“If there's great players out there that the culture fits and may fit a need,” he said, “we're definitely going to look into different options.”
Ohio State's 2021 recruiting class, with star and overall rankings from 247Sports.com composite rating:
WR Emeka Egbuka, Steilacoom, Wash., No. 9 overall
RB TreVeyon Henderson, Hopewell, Va., No. 24
OL Donovan Jackson, Houston, No. 17
QB Kyle McCord, Philadelphia, No. 25
DE Jack Sawyer, Pickerington, No. 4
WR Jayden Ballard, Massillon, No. 66
DB Denzel Burke, Scottsdale, Ariz., No. 192
LB Reid Carrico, Ironton, No. 84
OL Ben Christman, Richfield, No. 124
DB Jantzen Dunn, Bowling Green, Ky., No. 203
DT Michael Hall, Streetsboro, No. 49
DB Jordan Hancock, Suwanee, Ga., No. 67
WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Philadelphia, No. 91
DB Jakailin Johnson, St. Louis, No. 47
OL Zenuae Michalski, Floyds Knobs, Ind., No. 318
RB Evan Pryor, Cornelius, N.C., No. 81
DB Andre Turrentine, Nashville, Tenn., No. 167
DT Tyleik Williams, Manassas, Va., No. 161
TE Sam Hart, Aurora, Colo., No. 390
LB Jaylen Johnson, Cincinnati, No. 411
P Jesse Mirco, Melbourne, Australia